Today, agribusiness and pharmaceutical giant Bayer announced several massive legal settlements totaling over $10 billion to compensate those harmed by products of its recently acquired subsidiary, the Monsanto Company. The settlements involved two hazardous herbicides (weedkillers), Roundup and dicamba.
Bayer has agreed to pay up to $10.9 billion to roughly 125,000 people claiming that the company's Roundup herbicide was responsible for their cancer. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was designated a probable human carcinogen by an expert working group of the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2015. IARC, the world's premier cancer authority, found that glyphosate caused cancer in animals and is linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in humans.
The Roundup litigation settlement was preceded by three bellwether cases, in which juries sided with NHL-suffering plaintiffs in finding that their exposure to glyphosate contributed to their cancers. Plaintiffs Edwin Hardeman, DeWayne Johnson, and Alberta and Alva Pilliod were each awarded between $25 to $87 million.
"No financial settlement can make good the pain, suffering and lives lost to Monsanto's cancer-causing Roundup, but this settlement at least provides some small restitution, and more importantly will help dissuade others from putting themselves at similar risk by using this hazardous product," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety (CFS).
CFS has warned of Roundup's hazards for many years, and contributed a friend of the court brief to help defend the Hardeman verdict against an appeal by Bayer.
In a separate agreement, Bayer announced it would pay up to $400 million to thousands of farmers whose crops had been damaged due to rampant drift of the company's highly volatile dicamba herbicide. This agreement was preceded by two lawsuits that likely provided impetus for Bayer to settle.
In one case decided on June 3rd, 2020, a federal court of appeals ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) approval of Bayer's dicamba formulation XtendiMax, and of two similar herbicide formulations sold by BASF and Corteva, violated federal pesticide law. The Court found that EPA had "entirely failed to acknowledge" fundamental risks associated with these products, including the economic and social costs of drift damage, and substantially understated others. In the other case, Missouri peach farmer Bill Bader won a settlement of $265 million in a lawsuit against Bayer-Monsanto for the devastation wrought by years of dicamba drift onto his southeast Missouri peach orchard, the region's largest.
Bayer's dicamba formulation, known as XtendiMax, is applied directly to soybeans and cotton genetically engineered for resistance to it. Since its introduction in 2017, XtendiMax and two other dicamba formulations (BASF's Engenia and Corteva's FeXapan) have elicited many thousands of complaints of drift damage from farmers of non-dicamba-resistant soybeans as well as vegetable, fruit and many other crops. At least 5 millions acres of soybeans alone have been damaged by dicamba drift. Agronomists describe the scale of injury as unprecedented in the history of agriculture. Dicamba injury to trees and other vegetation is also rampant in states where dicamba is heavily used.